Sunday Salon

Travellers and the culture gap

Moscow metro travellers enjoy stunning design and free ebooks
Moscow metro travellers enjoy stunning design and free ebooks

Air travellers can look at masterpieces from Dutch artists while they’re waiting for their flight in Amsterdam. Metro and bus commuters in Moscow can download a book from the Russian canon of literature free of charge. What do we users of the British public transport get in the way of cultural diversions? Very little based on my experiences at our busiest transport hubs in the last few months.

Let’s start with Heathrow airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.  Apparently it does have an art gallery but this is only in Terminal 5. It’s probably the airport’s best kept secret since I’ve used this terminal at least 20 times in recent years and have never seen even a signpost for this place. Such a pity because it looks as if it has some high quality exhibitions (take a look at the T5 gallery website).  Other terminals though are a cultural desert unless you count shopping as culture.

Maybe the rail providers do a better job? St Pancreas is an architectural delight but offers very little else. Wi-fi isn’t free so if you’re stuck waiting for a train at Paddington you’ll have to rely on the tiny and always incredibly crowded outlet of W H Smith for any reading material. What a contrast to the metro system in Moscow where a virtual library of Russian classical literature has been made available free of charge; all you need is a smartphone or tablet capable of scanning a code.  Take one of the city’s buses, trams or trolley buses and you can get the same service.

Even Paddington is a huge improvement however on Cardiff’s central railway station and adjacent bus station. There may be some people fascinated by the habits of pigeons but I’m not one of them. Two minutes of watching them peck at a discarded cigarette end or cold chip is two minutes I will never regain and not even the sound of the national rugby team singing from the nearby stadium helped make the experience more interesting.

I know public art always attracts controversy and the argument that the money would be better spent on education, health etc act. But it seems our public transport hubs could badly do with some beautification.

What have you seen on your travels? Any gems of public art or culture you experience on your commute?


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

11 thoughts on “Travellers and the culture gap

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  • The central train station in Rome has a massive bookshop that made me quite jealous. But let’s not forget that London’s tube network has Poems on the Underground and Art on the Underground, both excellent projects. And there’s some lovely murals and local artworks in Bristol Temple Meads, though you do have to hunt a little for them.

  • I used my train station for a good 10 years before learning there is a piece of the Berlin Wall kept there. I wish I’d know what I was walking past every day! Chicago needs to step things up clearly.

    • Chicago isn’t wonderful it’s true. About the only art I can remember are the painted benches in one corridor.

  • When they built the first metro rail line in Minneapolis about 10 years ago, the stations (all outdoors) were designed with neighborhood input so the station by the creek has metal art of turtles and cattail reeds. The one along the very busy street has a wavy metal ribbon with cars driving on it. And all the stations also have boxes where if you pull the handle you get a story fictional or personal from a local artist/author/storyteller. It certainly is nothing fancy but I appreciate that thought was put into it!

    • I like that idea of getting a story. There are some statues I think in Birmingham, UK where the authorities have done that but none of them are at the railway station which remains a bit of a pit. we should all maybe move to Minneapolis

  • Interesting post…I haven’t traveled to many places in a while, and nothing outside the US. Could my fear of flying playing into this fact? LOL

    I do enjoy short flights, but so far, nothing more. What to do? Well, I travel through books and movies.


    • You do have some wonderful railway stations in the US though Laurel. Grand Central Station in New York is a masterpiece

    • They look superb Nordie. Almost makes me want to go to Lison just to see the designs

      • Nordie

        part of me wants to go back to see how they’ve come through their economic turmoil, which happened since the last time I was there. What’s annoying is there is no direct flight from Birmingham to Lisbon, at least as recently as 2014, which means i’d have to go to Gatwick – boooo!

        Considering Lisbon was the poor man of Europe well into the 90s – it certainly put Greece into the shade – i think they did rather well with their metro system!


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